Plain Jane Evans and the Billionaire by Mallory Monroe

CHAPTER ONE




Now they loved her. At least that was what they were telling themselves. That they loved her. That twelve years of their sadistic behavior came down to now, on the eve of her departure, as they sat around their dining room table pronouncing their love for her.

Janet Evans sat around that table, too, and listened as the Henleys of Cope County, Oklahoma went on and on about their “affection” for her. From the father to the mother to the daughter and son, they all insisted they were the best thing that ever happened to her and leaving them would be the biggest mistake of her life. They spoke as if she would be leaving paradise. She felt as if she was leaving prison.

They took her in when she was six years old after her kind-but-old foster mother died and the State determined that her kind-but-old foster father was too ill-suited to care for a six-year-old little girl. And back then Janet was so small she looked like she was three. “He wouldn’t know what to do with a fragile little girl like you,” she remembered one social worker telling her. “If his temper riled up and he put a belt to you, he could harm you something terrible,” she also said, which even back then was ludicrous to Janet. Mo Riley, her then-foster-father, was the sweetest man on the face of this earth. He wouldn’t harm a flea.

But they wouldn’t listen to a six-year-old who’d only been in Mo Riley’s household for two short years after her last foster parents didn’t want her anymore. She knew what manner of good man Mo was. But they figured they knew better. After Mo’s wife died, a large social worker with flat, runover shoes took her out of his home anyway.

At the time there was a county-wide decree that said orphans should be placed with relatives as a first result and foster care placement should be the absolute last result. They even agreed to pay the families to take their own relatives in. And that was how it all came together. When Mo Riley’s wife died, the county searched under every rock for relatives, no matter how despicable those relatives were, and out of the woodwork came the Henleys. Ma Henley was a distant cousin of Janet’s deceased mother and she and her family, for that money the county was willing to give them, would be more than happy to take her in.

Now, twelve years later, Janet was eighteen and of legal age in the eyes of the law and was getting out when they needed her to stay. When, the way Janet saw it, they needed that monthly check to keep-a-coming.

“It’s a cruel and harsh world out there,” Pa Henley said. “You don’t know what you’re about to get yourself into, little girl. It’s cold outside.”

Janet looked at him. He was the head of the family, who always sat at the head of the table, but Ma Henley wore the pants. When Janet first came to the family and was treated like their slave rather than their relative, she remembered looking to the kindly-faced man to help her. He reminded her of Mo Riley, whom she was missing something fierce. But that help never came. Pa Henley was better than the rest of those Henleys. He would be the one to tell them when enough was enough. But he was terrible too.

Since she was six years old, she’d been with them. Since she was six years old, she’d been the outcast. The one that was forced to wash the dishes and do the laundry and sweep the floors and take out the trash and clean up the throw-up when one of the Henley children got sick. Those children were bigger than her. Boy Henley was older than her. But she had to do their cleaning too.

And it wasn’t up for discussion. Ma Henley would slap the fire out of her if she didn’t do her cleaning right, and they’d let Boy Henley kick her for no other reason than the fact that he liked kicking things. She’d kick him back every time he kicked her, but that didn’t sit well with either of the Henley parents. He'd run crying to them accusing her of abusing him and, for some inexplicable reason Janet could never understand, they believed him. They always believed that lying boy! And not only would Janet feel the wrath of Ma Henley, but on more than a few of her kick-backs it was Pa Henley himself who’d grab her and throw her down in their rat-infested basement, one of the few basements in all of Cope County, as punishment for defending herself. He’d defend her when his family’s mistreatment crossed way over the line, but nobody touched his boy and girl, he’d tell her.

And now they all were telling her to stay.

“What you need to do,” Boy Henley had the nerve to say, “is keep your scrawny butt right where you at. You’d be lost in the real world. What you gon’ do in that world outside? Why they’d eat you alive!”